Message sent from Bulls coach Billy Donovan, but ‘Big Three’ fall short
The Bulls lost their fourth straight game Friday as Orlando’s Jalen Suggs hit a game-winner in the final seconds. But Donovan pointed the finger once again at a slow start to the game and put it on Nikola Vucevic, DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine to figure it out.
Bulls coach Billy Donovan sent a message Friday, and it wasn’t subtle.
In the days ahead, he’ll find out who really heard it, who took it to heart and who’s poised to do something about it.
It made no difference Friday night, as Jalen Suggs broke the Bulls’ hearts with a game-winning three-pointer in a shocking 108-107 victory for the Magic (5-11) at the United Center. But before the game, Donovan was asked about the Bulls’ slow starts, lethargic moments and overall play through 16 regular-season games, and after some of his usual coachspeak, he went outside his normal lines, making it clear this mess is on his Big Three and is theirs to clean up.
“The way I look at it is, I’ve got a lot of respect on a lot of levels for [Nikola Vucevic] and DeMar [DeRozan] and Zach [LaVine] as who they are as players,” Donovan said. “We’re never going to be as good as we can be as a team until those three guys really drive the opening part of the game. It’s easy to look at maybe Ayo [Dosunmu] being a young player, Patrick [Williams] not being aggressive enough, ‘Hey, we’re just going to throw a guy in there.’ [But] those three guys are important to our team, and if we’re working around them . . . I don’t know if we can ever get where we need to get to.”
The closing group was a different story Friday as the Bulls (6-10) overcame a 19-point deficit and took a four-point lead with 26.5 seconds left while LaVine was benched in crunch time after going 1-for-14 shooting.
“He had a tough night shooting, and I thought that [closing] group fought their way back into the game,” Donovan said. “One of those games that [LaVine] just wasn’t playing well.”
The benching didn’t seem to sit well with LaVine.
“That’s Billy’s decision — he’s got to lay with it,” LaVine said. “Do I agree with it? No. I think I can go out there and still be me even if I miss some shots. That’s his decision, and he’s got to stand on it.”
Asked if he’ll talk to Donovan about it, LaVine said, “I’ll figure it out after this [news conference].”
DeRozan scored 41 points, but that wasn’t enough to forgive another bad start that left the Bulls digging out of a hole.
It seemed they had a chance when JaVonte Green dunked with 26.5 seconds left, but Suggs hit two free throws, Vucevic missed his two free throws, and Suggs made it hurt with his final shot.
Donovan, however, said the game was lost in the first half.
“[DeRozan, Vucevic and LaVine] are the leaders of our team — they are veteran players that have been in the league a long time,’’ he said. “They’ve got to basically drive whatever it is, defense, offense, everything. We’ve got to be able to get back, we’ve got to be able to contest threes, rebound, defend without fouling. We’ve got to be able to not turn the ball over and run good offense to generate shots. If shots aren’t falling, it can’t bleed into our defense. Your veteran guys drive that mentality, and we need them to drive that mentality.”
There was more crashing than driving in the first quarter as the Bulls again struggled defending the three and fell behind 37-24. They trailed by 14 at the half.